Low Resources Saga - advice sought

So I'm starting up a low-resources saga. The idea is to start strong (i.e. at the normal ArM5 power levels, but with min-maxing players), but to have slow power progression. We want books and raw vis to be rare, hard to get, things. But this seems to require some house-ruling. My question is - how to do this ?

One issue we've run into is covenant build points. Clearly, we can't take lots of raw vis or books at covenant creation or it ruins the whole low-resources premise. Yet one can also get teachers, and magic items... We're thinking of lowering the amount of BPs available at covenant generation. (We're currently following the guidelines for Medium Power Level in the core book.) Any advice ?

Another house rule I'm contemplating is disallowing harvesting raw vis from creatures. Hermetic magic just can't do that, just like it can't harvest "cooked" vis from magic items. This will allow me to throw magical critters at the party without worrying this will flood them with raw vis.

Any other suggestions ? Advice ?

(We also have a few more house rules, but I don't think they're relevant to this thread.)


Maybe instead of making vis from magic creatures unavailable, you make getting to it have a time requirement. The biggest resources magi have is time. Things that take time will tamp down on power levels If they want three pawns of Ignem vis from the Salamander of Virtue that they killed, it will take a season to extract it.
I'd still allow spells like Gather the Essence of the Beast to concentrate the vis into a body part, but getting it into usable form for Hermetic magic requires extensive distillation that takes a season. You could say that you can't get all of the vis, too, some of it is lost as waste, if you think it's too easy for them to get vis this way, or the time requirement isn't enough. This isn't all that different from distilling vis from an aura. From a magical creature it is just concentrated enough and it doesn't require a CrVi lab total.
I will say that harvesting magic from creatures is pretty much the premise of Ars Magica. It used to be that vis was the treasure one went hunting and questing after. :smiley:

For books, go back to the old 3rd edition rules. Slows advancement significantly.
For vis, just reduce the amount of it you have around. Removing it from creatures sounds sensible. Make the S&M bonuses from creature bits super cool to make them interesting :slight_smile: Having a wand with a dragon claw and a pair of bat wings over the emerald you extracted from the head of a magical chameleon is cooler :slight_smile: Another option is to remove repeating vis sources, so you must go out and hunt stuff to get your vis.
I would also be wary of super specialized teachers going around, since they can do pretty much the same that books do.
Covenant rules are not any good here. I would disregard them and build the covenant from gut feeling. They were not goood when the core book was released and they keep being easily exploitable if you go for it.


Simply set the number of build points available to a low number, adjust the cost of some of the resources, and put a cap on how many build points can be spent on a single item.

For example, Covenants states that a Low Power Level covenant has 0-300 build points. So just say that the covenant has 150 bp.

Only a few changes are then needed to the cost or maximum for each resource. Something like:

  • Library: maximum 15 build points per Summa, maximum 10 points per tractatus
  • Specialist: maximum 10 points on a Teacher, maximum 7 points on other specialists
  • Vis Sources: no change to the cost of a source (5 bp per yearly pawn), maximum 50 build points spent overall on vis sources
  • Vis Reserves: 1 bp per 2 pawns of vis, maximum 10 build points can be spent this way

Going into a low resource game it's pretty easy for players to make characters who are able to generate resources if given time. CrVi specialists with Hermetic Alchemy, great authors, wealthy companions. The challenge is not to let acquiring resources the be soul focus of the characters unless that is the game you wan't.

There is one resource that if denied can limit almost any character. It's been said before but Time is the most important resource in ArM. Keeping characters busy with adventure, politics, and travel can really slow advancement. Without throwing down a gauntlet for players focus on.

Another thing that I think could alter the landscape, and make for some really interesting possibilities, is adjusting the Aura strength. I had a thread bout treating the Aura as a magnitude, where each level is a +5 instead of +1 for Magic Realms.
It's located here.

It makes magic auras really powerful, and even a +3 Aura makes spell casting and learning, and even item creation much easier. It makes divine auras absolutely horrid. Since the typical town will take a -45 (Aura 35/magnitude3 triple strength of Divine aura) to your casting total. But maybe that's not so bad. It's yet another reason why magi avoid cities, if at all possible. Those magi that are living in the city, are either extremely powerful, have a lacuna for their covenant, are getting something for the effort, or some combination of the three. It makes the Divine Aura 1 something to be wary of, too. Item creation isn't something to be afraid of when you change the availability of vis, though.

An interesting side effect is that magi can actually develop really powerful spells and cast them, when in a magic aura. Outside of that aura, they might not be able to cast the spell, or doing so might leave them fatigued. I think having a wide grimoire of spells available to a magus is important, regardless of the saga's overall power level. If you tamp down hard on books to increase Arts, this is an alternative method of getting them access to spells, they wouldn't get access to without a higher TeFo combination, while at the same time drastically limiting the locations where such spells can be cast, or changing the cost of casting spells in the field/on adventure in the "real" world from nothing to fatiguing.

Or go whole-hog, and declare that Form/Technique are normal abilities, as opposed to Accelerated ones. That'll slow folks down!

Of course, there are ways around that: low-level Rego Vim for Range and Duration, Perdo Vim for penetration (A lvl 5 Shield breaker is actually pretty nice, especially if cast down an Intangible Tunnel), and Magic Theory/Talisman casting bonuses become much more important...

Here's a different idea:

The premise of the game itself.

Think of this:

Magic is in serious decline. Magic sites are under attack and dissapearing. The Order is retreating before the mundanes, and vis is becoming more and more rare - much of what is left is dedicated to longevity potions and Aegis rituals. The remaining covenants have become calcified, relying on magi not rocking the boat. Young magi who won't get with the program are not accepted at any covenant.

The PCs are misfits, magi are not team players with the status quo and so no covenant will take them. No covenant even wants to trade with them. The PCs are forced into the deep wilderness of the icy north, vile swamps with disease or the deep deserts of the Saracens. Here they will have to deal with powerful, antagonistic forces that do not want to work with the Magi and want them OUT.

That is how you make a low resource game actually make sense.

My first recommendation is to avoid build points entirely, and create the covenant you want. Really, the whole set of rules for build points, hooks and boons exist only to facilitate that; even to simulate more normal play, group intervention is often required to prevent unexpected results.

As for harvesting raw vis from creatures, it depends what you want to do. Your house rule will certainly lower the power level. An alternate rule might be to only allow that vis to be used for effects very tightly coupled to the nature of its source. This would allow greater power, but only in extremely focused applications, similar to shape and material bonuses.

Changing the rules for source quality of teachers and books can also help. Having access to many books and teachers will pose no problem at all if a typical good book has quality 5 and the best available quality of 10.

Ban life linked formulaic and spontaneous magic.

require experimentation for inventing any effect not already known. (Learning a spell from someone's text is fine, but inventing a new formulaic or instilling in effect into an item for which you don't already know a formulaic spell is subject to experimentation. A similar effect is not sufficient.) This one rule gives you a whole lot of control, And goes a long way toward providing good atmosphere. I think that with this rule in place, the only limit you need on vis is that it cannot be used to boost totals

Ban Spontaneous magic? Is that your speech to text getting something wrong?

life linked

Well, you said life linked formulaic and spontaneous magic, so I was trying to decipher what you meant.
Do you mean Life Boost and Life Linked Spontaneous magic? I'll go from the point of view that you are.

Personally, I wouldn't ban these, these turn magi into glass cannons or one-shot wonders, if you prefer. Life Linked Spontaneous magic just means if you roll a 0, or even worse botch on that 0, means you're going to be spending a lot of fatigue for that effect, possibly knocking yourself out and taking wounds. Yes, they can do a bit more, but then that comes with some cost... Fatigue may be an issue otherwise, too.

For most sagas, I'd agree; I don't think char op is frightening, munchkin thread name notwithstanding. For a saga where growing Arts scores will be hard, the ability to circumvent that breaks premise. Low resources matter less to a Bjornaer with 2 extra fatigue

You realize a basic Root of the Art is 20 BP, don't you?

No, another way to slow the progression is simply to play a Slow Saga. If you advance 4 game-years every real-year, staying in the lab for a year or two means stabling your magus for 6 months.

A simple trick to achieve slow progression is to say that essentially all the rules and setting remain unchanged, but there are only two "seasons"/year and all V/F granting more or fewer seasons/year are scaled down proportionately (e.g. Wealthy would give you another free season every two years etc.). This makes it easy to reutilize NPCs too: an NPC that in the book is 60 years out of gauntlet becomes 120 years out of gauntlet in your game.

This of course can be made milder assuming 3 seasons/year, or harsher assuming only 1.

Life Linked Spontaneous magic will have a tendency to turn the magus into a generalist. In a low powered saga, this may be a good type of character to actually play.
For Life Boost, I'd scale the penetration to be roughly proportionate to the drop in power level, instead.

Yep, I realize that. The branches are basically shortcuts, allowing you to move directly from 0 to 5 in an Art.

Another way to reduce resource power level would be to play with the book-writing rules. But the original poster said he wanted to have a low resources saga. That doesn't require rules changes.

I think it doesn't need any rule change at all. As someone else mentioned, you simply need to change the premises.

Just say that magi are generally suspicious of each other's power, or more secretive about their knowledge, or some other social reason. So they don't share books easily. Good books will be rarely copied. Deals would be for access, not copying.

Then make vis sources smaller. Most are only 1-2 pawns per year. One that yields 5 pawns would be big. A legendary source might yield 10 pawns/year. A typical covenant might only have sources of about 10-15 pawns/year (or about 2-3 pawns per magus). Personal Vis Source is already scaled acording to the power of the saga, so it would also be about 2-3 pawns per year.

Teachers are not a big problem. What they can teach you are mundane Abilities, for the most part. And if magi don't teach each other much, then you can imagine that few will share with mundanes even the basics of Magic Theory.

Covenant build points are only there to help you create the covenant. Either reduce them to the level you'd like, or ignore them entirely.

Just think about the results of the change to the premises I suggested, and allocate resources accordingly. So a typical newly-Gauntleted magus might receive a book or two (about 30 bp total) and a few mundane servants. Another might get the equipment needed to set up a lab, plus a few lab texts. Another gets a small turb of grogs and a minor magical item. A friendly redcap shared the knowledge of a site where they could set up a small covenant, which has a single vis source (about 5 pawns/year) in exchange for getting 1 pawn per year for the next 20 years. He thinks there might be some other minor sources (perhaps 5 more pawns/year) in the area but they'd have to find them.

Forget about the money, forget about the build points. Just establish the premises of the saga and discuss it with the players so that they each have something to contribute, and it makes sense for them to pool those resources to form a covenant. The scarcity of resources will reduce advancement right off the bat. Throw in regular stories that they can't ignore as a time drain, which will disturb their plans, and and you have plenty of reasons why advancement will be slow.

...and now I'm itching to actually storyguide a PbP saga like that. :stuck_out_tongue:

I still think my idea is the best. 8)